John Bolton hates the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua—calling them the “troika of tyranny” and the “three stooges of socialism”—and is determined to use his time as National Security Advisor to eliminate the vestiges of socialism in our hemisphere. He has openly stated that the 1823 Monroe Doctrine is “alive and well,” conveying that the United States will dictate the terms of governance in the Western Hemisphere, by military force if necessary. Furious that he has been unable to successfully orchestrate a coup in Venezuela, Bolton is now lashing out at Cuba, explicitly punishing the nation for its support of Venezuelan President Maduro. The travel restrictions announced on June 4 represent another page from Bolton’s “regime change” playbook.
The new travel restrictions will severely limit the ability of Americans to travel to Cuba. The restrictions prohibit group educational trips to Cuba, known as “people-to-people” travel, as well as passenger vessels, recreational vessels, and private aircraft. These bans go to the heart of the Cuban economy, which has become increasingly dependent on tourism.
Despite the island’s devastation from Hurricane Irma and increased restrictions from the Trump administration in 2017, Cuba had a record number of visitors in 2018—4.75 million, with the US and Canada being the largest contributors. In just the first four months of 2019, over 250,000 US visitors traveled to Cuba, an increase of 93% from the same months in 2018. Most visitors came from cruise ships, which are included under the new restrictions. Trump’s move will impact an estimated 800,000 cruise passenger bookings, cutting the island out of millions of dollars a year in docking fees and payments for on-shore excursions. It comes at a time of severe economic weakness for Cuba, which is struggling to find enough cash to import basic food and other supplies following a drop in aid from Venezuela.
The Trump administration wants to punish the Cuban government, but the restrictions on “people-to-people travel” will be particularly harmful to Cuba’s private entrepreneurs who have poured their lives’ savings into restaurants and home-based lodgings catering to American travelers, and greatly benefited from Obama-era policies.
While John Bolton insists he wants to spread democracy abroad, his Cuba restrictions violate the freedom of the American people. The United States is the only country that restricts travel to Cuba. Canadians have always traveled freely to the island, as have people from Latin America, Europe and all over the globe. The U.S. also allows Americans to travel to the world’s most repressive countries—from North Korea to Myanmar to Saudi Arabia—but unfairly singles out Cuba.
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